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Laurence Hitterdale: on 3/16/17 at 18:18pm UTC, wrote Hi Inés, I much appreciate your comment, because you have stated the key...

Laurence Hitterdale: on 3/16/17 at 4:00am UTC, wrote Dear Tejinder, Thank you for your kind words. You ask what answer I would...

Tejinder Singh: on 3/14/17 at 17:43pm UTC, wrote Dear Laurence, I very much enjoyed your well-written and highly readable...

Héctor Gianni: on 3/12/17 at 0:04am UTC, wrote Dear Laurence Hitterdale I invite you and every physicist to read my work...

Ines Samengo: on 3/11/17 at 15:05pm UTC, wrote Sorry, I am inés samengo - I seem to have been logged out at some point.

Lev Burov: on 3/10/17 at 19:51pm UTC, wrote Dear Laurence, I thought a little about your answer, and I have one more...

Anonymous: on 3/10/17 at 14:46pm UTC, wrote Hi, Laurence, thanks for the good read! I think you made an excellent...

Rick Searle: on 3/8/17 at 22:01pm UTC, wrote Dear Laurence, I greatly enjoyed you essay as I always do in these...


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Steven Andresen: "It might be that I have come to know where the hidden variable is, to..." in 80 Years of EPR —...

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A "retrocausal" rewrite of physics, in which influences from the future can affect the past, could solve some quantum quandaries—saving Einstein's view of reality along the way.

March 23, 2017

CATEGORY: Wandering Towards a Goal Essay Contest (2016-2017) [back]
TOPIC: Conscious Goal-Seeking and the Nature of Time by Laurence Hitterdale [refresh]
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This essay's rating: Community = 4.7; Public = 4.7

Author Laurence Hitterdale wrote on Feb. 24, 2017 @ 21:44 GMT
Essay Abstract

Forming conscious intentions for the future and then seeking to realize those intentions are processes central to human life. If these activities are to make sense, then apparently the future, unlike the present and the past, must be open or perhaps even not-yet-existent. But what if all parts of time, past, present, and future, are equally real? Such a view about the nature of time is the considered opinion of many experts on the subject. This is not the place to examine the evidence or to repeat the arguments for this view. It is sufficient to notice that the evidence and arguments are strong enough that the view has to be taken seriously when we try to understand the practices of setting goals in the future and working to implement them. Looking at these future-oriented practices in the light of the proposal about the nature of time, we reach two results. For one thing, if present and future are equally real, people may be able to understand that fact intellectually, but they must live and act with a working assumption that the future is merely potential in a way that the past and the present are not. So, if the proposal about time is true and if people accept it as true, theoretical understanding will be at variance with an implicit assumption essential for daily living. And secondly, because we do not at present know whether the proposal is true, efforts to attain future goals are subject to uncertainty about their status in the scheme of things. Maybe those efforts taken at face value make sense; on the other hand, maybe the efforts, although irremovable practices in human life, must be understood in a new way in order to explain their actual place in time.

Author Bio

Laurence Hitterdale holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland. Having worked for both business firms and academic institutions, he is currently a professor of information systems at Glendale College in California. His philosophical work is focused on ontology, philosophy of cosmology, and philosophy of mind. He has entered three previous FQXi essay contests, and his 2014 essay, “A Rope over an Abyss,” was awarded a special commendation prize.

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sridattadev kancharla wrote on Feb. 25, 2017 @ 15:29 GMT
Dear Laurence,

I wish you all the best with your in depth analysis of how intentions govern reality. I welcome you to read there are no goals as such in which I propose that consciousness is the fundamental basis of existence and that intent is the only true content of reality. Also that we can quantify consciousness using Riemann sphere and achieve artificial consciousness as per the article Representation of qdits on Riemann Sphere. Consciousness alone is real, space-time and light are emergent from consciousness aka i, i thinks therefore we are.



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Edwin Eugene Klingman wrote on Feb. 26, 2017 @ 01:25 GMT
Laurence Hitterdale,

Good to see you back. I enjoyed your essay, which, as always, portrays careful reasoning; in particular, focusing on 'time' as it is currently and often 'misconceived'. You note that "this unreality of time need not mean that time is absolutely nothing." Indeed!

Similarly to Georgina Parry, I believe we are consciously aware of the Now, while past and...

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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on Mar. 3, 2017 @ 16:55 GMT
Hello Edwin,

Good to hear from you again. Thanks for your comments on this essay and for your kind thoughts. I intend to read your essay and to comment in the discussions about it.

Laurence Hitterdale

Joe Fisher wrote on Feb. 26, 2017 @ 16:32 GMT
Dear Professor Hitterdale,

Please excuse me for I have no intention of disparaging in any way any part of your essay.

I merely wish to point out that “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955) Physicist & Nobel Laureate.

Only nature could produce a reality so simple, a single cell amoeba could deal with it.

The real Universe must consist only of one unified visible infinite physical surface occurring in one infinite dimension, that am always illuminated by infinite non-surface light.

A more detailed explanation of natural reality can be found in my essay, SCORE ONE FOR SIMPLICITY. I do hope that you will read my essay and perhaps comment on its merit.

Joe Fisher, Realist

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David Brown wrote on Feb. 26, 2017 @ 19:54 GMT
"The great advantage of time without passage is the one which Einstein discerned: good things now past to us are in themselved still existent." What is meant by "time without passage" in terms of a mathematical model? I have suggested that Wolfram's mobile automaton might have a mathematical model that uses the monster group and the 6 pariah groups to restrict string vibrations to 3 copies of the Leech lattice. The 3 most important predictions of this approach might be the Fernández-Rañada-Milgrom effect, the Space Roar Profile Prediction, and the 64 Particles Hypothesis. Time might exist because 2^46 divides the order of the monster group. Space might exist because 3^20 divides the order of the monster group.

Consider the following hypothesis: Our universe was born 13.82 billion years ago. It would have expanded forever in the dark energy and inflationary mode of Newton and Einstein, but for the fact, noticed by Milgrom, that Newton and Einstein were not quite right. Gravitons, unlike photons, gluons, and all other fundamental particles, can sometimes escape from the boundary of the multiverse into the interior of the multiverse. This process of escape, appearing as dark energy, causes a slight excess of gravitational red shift known as dark matter and a slight excess of flattening in spacetime known as Milgromian inflation. Thus our universe expands, collapses in one Planck time interval and is reborn every 81.6 ± 1.7 billion years.

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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on Mar. 3, 2017 @ 16:42 GMT
Thank you for your detailed comment. In reply to your question as to what is meant by “time without passage” in terms of a mathematical model, I can say that the passage or flow of time seems to be something that cannot be captured in a mathematical model. On other words, time with passage and time without passage would be modeled in the same way. This might be a reason to dismiss the concept of temporal passage as superfluous and perhaps even in some way senseless. One might, however, consider this peculiarity of temporal flow as a way to check for its presence or absence. Is there something about time which cannot be represented in a mathematical model?

Luke Kenneth Casson Leighton replied on Mar. 5, 2017 @ 15:23 GMT
"the passage or flow of time seems to be something that cannot be captured in a mathematical model."

as a software engineer who has used a hybrid combination of mathematical models and discrete event-driven (time-based) simulations to model, for example, diesel trucks, it would appear that even just this one example would be a contradiction of what you say. i *would* however agree strongly that certain mathematical equations - particularly recursive ones - would often simply not have formal solutions, only analytical ones (or computer-based discrete solutions).

i would be interested to hear your thoughts on that.

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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on Mar. 5, 2017 @ 18:30 GMT
Many aspects of time can be represented or modeled mathematically. In particular, the linear order of before and after can be represented mathematically. The question, however, is whether the sense of coming-to-be and passing-away can have a mathematical representation. People who deny the reality of temporal flow or passage would say that the B-series linear order is all that is needed for practical or scientific purposes. Therefore, according to these people, temporal flow needs no mathematical representation and might as well not exist. It is a short step from there to say that temporal flow can have no mathematical representation and does not exist. One way to frame the issue is to ask how one could distinguish a mathematical representation of only the B-series temporal properties from a mathematical representation of both the A-series and B-series properties. If there is no difference between the two representations, then either the A-series properties exist but elude mathematical representation or else the supposed A-series properties are unreal.

Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Feb. 27, 2017 @ 01:06 GMT
Dear Prof Hitterdale,

Thank you for the nice essay on “ Time and consciousness "

You are observations are excellent,… “Understanding our preferences is important, but knowing the truth about reality is more important still.”

Don’t you feel defining “reality” is a bit difficult. Is it what you see, or touch , or through other senses or what told by others….? Good discussion sir.

Just I am diverting this topic………

For your information Dynamic Universe model is totally based on experimental results.

With axioms like… No Isotropy; No Homogeneity; No Space-time continuum; Non-uniform density of matter(Universe is lumpy); No singularities; No collisions between bodies; No Blackholes; No warm holes; No Bigbang; No repulsion between distant Galaxies; Non-empty Universe; No imaginary or negative time axis; No imaginary X, Y, Z axes; No differential and Integral Equations mathematically; No General Relativity and Model does not reduce to General Relativity on any condition; No Creation of matter like Bigbang or steady-state models; No many mini Bigbangs; No Missing Mass; No Dark matter; No Dark energy; No Bigbang generated CMB detected; No Multi-verses etc.

Many predictions of Dynamic Universe Model came true, like Blue shifted Galaxies and no dark matter. Dynamic Universe Model gave many results otherwise difficult to explain

Have a look at my essay on Dynamic Universe Model and blog also where all my books and available for free downloading…

st wishes to your essay.

For your blessings please…………….

=snp. gupta

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Alexey/Lev Burov wrote on Mar. 2, 2017 @ 03:24 GMT
Dear Laurence,

Lev and I are glad to see you’re back!

I highly appreciate how you put the problem about human condition for one or another status of time. I agree that “The illusion of passage, if it be an illusion, infects not just our thinking but also our living. Intellectually we may be able to overcome it, but experientially it is irremediable.” I see your consideration similar to one of Descartes, about his evil demon. What if we are fundamentally and incurably mislead in our thinking? My conclusion is the same, as Descartes’: the only way to have a meaning of life is to trust the God, and as a consequence to take for granted the correctness of our primary intuitions. We are writing in more details about that in our essay, which, I hope, you will comment.


Alexey Burov.

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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on Mar. 3, 2017 @ 17:47 GMT
Dear Alexey and Lev,

Thank you for your perceptive comments. I appreciated your essay last year, and I look forward to reading your new essay this time. I had not thought of the comparison with Descartes’ evil demon. Descartes posed a hypothetical possibility. People who argue that we are systematically deceived about one or more large-scale aspects of experience are in a way arguing that some-such possibility has to be taken as more than merely hypothetical. Various authors have propounded similar arguments about other features besides the nature of time. Perhaps the contemporary reworking of Descartes’ idea of thoroughgoing misconception leads to the question that Nick Bostrom asks, “Are you living in a computer simulation?” I will have some further comments on your essay in the discussion section for it.

Laurence Hitterdale

Lev Burov wrote on Mar. 5, 2017 @ 11:25 GMT
Dear Laurence,

Thank you for your insightful contemplation. If philosophy significantly involves the art of argument, then by way of compliment, I note that there are many ideas in your text that I'd like very much to argue. Alexey and I agree that it deserves the highest rating. I think also that your essay presents an example of questioning that can be applied to other ideas in philosophy, for example, mathematical Platonism or free will. What motivations and goals can we obtain from taking one or another position on these?

In a comment to us, you mentioned the connection of ethics and metaphysics. That is definitely an area of overlap between our essays. Since this area is especially fraught with problems, in that regard I'd like a pose a little criticism to your paper and ask a question.

Your text lacks a mention of the paradoxical worldview, which is very much at home in this debate. You are, no doubt, aware of the idea of a philosophical or dialectical contradiction, where mutually contradictory views are knowingly held. Likely you've also encountered entire worldviews that are contradictory in this special way. On the other hand, some philosophers, in striving to rid of any contradiction, go to extremes to declare things illusory, most famously Parmenides.

Some hold views where temporal and atemporal entities fundamentally coexist, with an understanding of a profound contradiction in this coexistence. Do you think there is a contradiction in such a worldview? Do you think that contradiction should be removed at all costs, a la Parmenides, or could it have a vital or at least tolerable role to play in metaphysics?

Thanks for your kind remarks on our page. You'll find a reply there, if you look.

Lev Burov

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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on Mar. 5, 2017 @ 19:39 GMT
Reply Sunday 5 March 2017, 11:40

Dear Lev and Alexey,

I agree that the questions I raise about the implications of ideas concerning the nature of time can and should be applied to other ideas. The ideas that merit such inquiry include many that have been part of philosophical discussions for centuries and also ideas that have originated in, or at least gained prominence, through reflections on more recent scientific hypotheses.

In my view, there are both temporal and atemporal entities, and I do not think the reality of both together involves a contradiction.

Beyond that, I am not familiar with the “paradoxical worldview,” to which you refer. I tend to believe that self-contradiction is necessarily a sign of falsehood and that, therefore, contradictions are to be avoided. It is hard to understand how reality itself could be paradoxical or self-contradictory. However, you seem to be talking about contradictions inside worldviews, not inside the world itself, because you mention situations “where mutually contradictory views are knowingly held.” That would mean that the best worldview available to a particular person at a particular time would be one that contains unresolved contradictions. That belief about worldviews, not about the world itself, I can understand. This certainly has been the actual epistemic situation of many people at many times. More speculatively, it might be an epistemic situation which will always be characteristic of human thinking.

I intend to make some additional comments on the discussion page for your essay.

Laurence Hitterdale

Lev Burov replied on Mar. 10, 2017 @ 19:51 GMT
Dear Laurence,

I thought a little about your answer, and I have one more question for you. You say that it is hard to understand how reality itself can be paradoxical. It is, I agree, however, it would be hard to deny the fact paradoxes do exist, thus being part of reality. Wouldn't that mean that parts of reality itself are intrinsically paradoxical?

Now, you may reply that paradoxes only exist in thought. But, if we're trying to understand the connection between mathematics, which is possibly the epitome of atemporality, and thought with its goals and intentions, the epitome of time flow, paradoxes begin to play a major role in this contemplation. Can you see a way around this difficulty that is not Parmenidean, or are you ready to embrace the paradox, as, for example, Penrose does?

"There is, finally, a further mystery concerning Fig. 1.3, which I have left to the last. I have deliberately drawn the figure so as to illustrate a paradox. How can it be that, in accordance with my own prejudices, each world appears to encompass the next one in its entirety? I do not regard this issue as a reason for abandoning my prejudices, but merely for demonstrating the presence of an even deeper mystery that transcends those which I have been pointing to above. There may be a sense in which the three worlds are not separate at all, but merely reflect, individually, aspects of a deeper truth about the world as a whole of which we have little conception at the present time." -- from Road to Reality


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Luke Kenneth Casson Leighton wrote on Mar. 5, 2017 @ 15:28 GMT
hi laurence,

at the beginning of your essay you say, "our investigation is concerned only with

conscious future-directed aims and intentions."

could i ask why?

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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on Mar. 5, 2017 @ 17:54 GMT
The reason for the delimitation of topic is the constraint on the length of the essay. Conscious aims and intentions, as contrasted with non-conscious ones, raise particular questions which require special discussion.

Lawrence B. Crowell wrote on Mar. 7, 2017 @ 19:02 GMT
Dear Laurence,

Your essay makes for a good reading. I have downloaded it into my digital library. There are a couple of thoughts I have on this matter of subjective experience of time and objective time, which is as objective as we might be able to make it.

The curious persistent illusion of there being a present moment that marches forwards probably has something to do with how the brain processes memories, This moment of time is around 1/20th of a second, which is why the old NTSC standard for TV was 30Hz picture sweeps. Our mental time frame is longer than the TV picture scan rate and so we do not readily observe the refresh rate. This time interval is probably involved with the time it requires the hippocampus to process short term memory. Since this little "delta time" is what we consciously experience we are then faced with this illusion of a moment marching forwards.

I tend to think the irreversible nature of time is also wrapped into quantum state reduction. The shifting of entanglement phase in a diffusive fashion, or apparently so for times far shorter than the quantum Poincare recurrence time, means the illusion of a moment in time may be equivalent to the illusion of a quantum mechanical outcome in a measurement. At least in a Many World Interpretation perspective this might be so. BTW I am rather agnostic on MWI and other interpretations. My moment in time is on a spatial surface of simultaneity that has regions in the past and future of somebody driving by me in the opposite direction. This is standard special relativity. We then have a funny sense of what a moment actually consists of by relativity. This may also be the case with quantum mechanics.

Cheers LC

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Rick Searle wrote on Mar. 8, 2017 @ 22:01 GMT
Dear Laurence,

I greatly enjoyed you essay as I always do in these contests. It struck me while reading it that maybe there are 2 forms of time. The first form would derive from the way the universe evolves from the laws. That overall evolution is deterministic and cannot be changed so that the distinction between past and future doesn't really exist within what they describe- if you know the past you know the future and vise-versa.

The second form would be related to consciousness which acts as a sort of clock. The more clocks- the more consciousness- the more time exists. It's an idea I got from a blurb in The Economists which I wrote about thus:

"It pointed out that with the milestone of 7 billion people in 2011 the aggregate age of everyone alive rose to 220 billion years. By the end of the 21st century:

The world’s population will have stabilized at just over 10 billion and those people will have accumulated 430 billion years of human experience between them.

The philosophical implications of this were not explored by the Economist, but think about it for a second. The number of subjective years lived today by the only fully sentient creature we know of- ourselves- is already more than ten times the chronological age of the physical universe! By the end of the century those subjective years will have grown to be around 30 times larger than the age of the Universe. In this sense life is not only older, but much older than the cosmos in which it swims and collectively might already be said to possess time on the scale of what any individual would consider eternity."

And can be found here:

Please check out my own essay in the current contest entitled "From Athena to AI" when you get the chance.

Best of luck,

Rick Searle

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Anonymous wrote on Mar. 10, 2017 @ 14:46 GMT
Hi, Laurence, thanks for the good read! I think you made an excellent exposition of how our search for the objective nature of time somehow challenges our dy-to-day thoughts and actions, distabilizing the intuitive base upon which we make future plans.

I just hope we soon see solid progress about the nature of time, I'm terribly curious about it, and I'm running out of time, at least, of the one that seems to flow. thanks again!


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Ines Samengo replied on Mar. 11, 2017 @ 15:05 GMT
Sorry, I am inés samengo - I seem to have been logged out at some point.

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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on Mar. 16, 2017 @ 18:18 GMT
Hi Inés,

I much appreciate your comment, because you have stated the key idea more clearly and concisely than I did.

I have also read your essay, and my comment about it is on the Web page for your essay.

Laurence Hitterdale

Héctor Daniel Gianni wrote on Mar. 12, 2017 @ 00:04 GMT
Dear Laurence Hitterdale

I invite you and every physicist to read my work “TIME ORIGIN,DEFINITION AND EMPIRICAL MEANING FOR PHYSICISTS, Héctor Daniel Gianni ,I’m not a physicist.

How people interested in “Time” could feel about related things to the subject.

1) Intellectuals interested in Time issues usually have a nice and creative wander for the unknown.

2) They usually enjoy this wander of their searches around it.

3) For millenniums this wander has been shared by a lot of creative people around the world.

4) What if suddenly, something considered quasi impossible to be found or discovered such as “Time” definition and experimental meaning confronts them?

5) Their reaction would be like, something unbelievable,… a kind of disappointment, probably interpreted as a loss of wander…..

6) ….worst than that, if we say that what was found or discovered wasn’t a viable theory, but a proved fact.

7) Then it would become offensive to be part of the millenary problem solution, instead of being a reason for happiness and satisfaction.

8) The reader approach to the news would be paradoxically adverse.

9) Instead, I think it should be a nice welcome to discovery, to be received with opened arms and considered to be read with full attention.

11)Time “existence” is exclusive as a “measuring system”, its physical existence can’t be proved by science, as the “time system” is. Experimentally “time” is “movement”, we can prove that, showing that with clocks we measure “constant and uniform” movement and not “the so called Time”.

12)The original “time manuscript” has 23 pages, my manuscript in this contest has only 9 pages.

I share this brief with people interested in “time” and with physicists who have been in sore need of this issue for the last 50 or 60 years.


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Member Tejinder Pal Singh wrote on Mar. 14, 2017 @ 17:43 GMT
Dear Laurence,

I very much enjoyed your well-written and highly readable essay. Indeed, if the passage of time is not real, how ought we to conduct ourselves? Undoubtedly a fascinating question. But I am not sure if you chose to give an answer?

In my essay I argue that time itself is not real, in quantum theory. Rather, time is an emergent concept of the classical world.

My best wishes,


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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on Mar. 16, 2017 @ 04:00 GMT
Dear Tejinder,

Thank you for your kind words.

You ask what answer I would give to the question whether the passage of time is unreal. You are correct to say that I do not explicitly answer the question in the essay. At present I would guess that the passage of time is real. I base this judgment on two premises. First, there is the fact that passage is a characteristic of time as...

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